It’s Wrong to Say, “You’re Wrong”

On 12 March 2007, General Peter Pace (bio), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave an interview to the Chicago Tribune in which he was asked his thoughts on the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of homosexuality in the military.  Part of his reply has been the center of some debate:

“I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts… I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else’s wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior.”

Literally hundreds of internet “blogs” and other media sources have pontificated about the General’s comments already; here are the salient points:

  1. The General has since noted that he would have been better served if he had restricted his comments to official policy rather than his personal opinion.
  2. Current military law prohibits homosexuals from serving openly in the military.
  3. The “Servicemembers Legal Defense Network,” which often represents military members dismissed on charges of homosexuality, called the comments “disrespectful” and demanded an apology.
  4. No apology has been given.

The intricacies of military policies on homosexuality are, truthfully, a topic for another time (and as noted above, have been discussed ad nauseum in the media).  Instead, it is worth discussing what Christian fighter pilots and others like them can learn from this recent event regarding what they can and cannot say or believe in the military, and how others will view a Christian’s beliefs and actions.  (For the record, it’s worth noting that “religion” hasn’t really entered the debate because the General attributed his beliefs to his “upbringing” and not a religious view.)

Can a military Christian express his moral (or religious) views?

General Pace did nothing illegal or impermissible; in fact, he primarily expressed support for upholding the law.  A military Christian is free to do the same.

Should a military Christian express his moral (or religious) views?

In the typical fighter pilot fashion:  it depends.  There is a time and a place for everything.  Sometimes another issue is the important factor.  For example, General Pace may have distracted the public from the topic at hand by mentioning his personal views.  Arguably, the interview may never have been noticed if not for a “controversial” statement.  On the other hand, in an appropriate situation, or if a military Christian is asked for his moral view, he should not fear expressing it.

Should a Christian apologize for an “offensive” moral view?

To believe something is moral is to believe an absolute.  It would be hypocritical to subsequently apologize for that absolute belief.  Those that demand apologies are, in essence, proposing an alternative and equally “offensive” moral position.  It is also worth noting that while some organizations have berated General Pace for “denouncing” the service of military members (the Washington Post), he actually did no such thing.  He confined his comments to homosexual behavior (again, consistent with the law).  Likewise, in the clichéd tradition of “hate the sin, love the sinner,” Christians who choose to express an “offensive” moral view should carefully consider the criticism they may be expressing, even inadvertently.

Christians who state their beliefs in public may face public criticism.  That does not mean, however, that Christians should alter or deny their beliefs.  One internet commentator went so far as to express shock that the military would be “so concerned” with “morals.”  Dr. Tony Beam, director of the Christian Worldview Center, said that recent events have virtually sounded the death knell of morality in America.  He rightly points out that since society believes that “absolute truth” effectively no longer exists, they must also believe that nothing can truly be immoral.

In such an age of moral relativism, it is paradoxical to some people that the military be infused with the highest moral standards.  It seems some would suggest we empower the military with the ability to choose life or death but not the ability to tell right from wrong (because, they contend, there is no “wrong”).  Some of that criticism is rooted in the belief that “popular morals” are based in Christianity.  If advocating a moral stance somehow implies Christian beliefs, some feel that it must be avoided.  Given US military history (and even recent events) in which normally honorable troops have committed egregious crimes, it would seem a ridiculous assertion that moral conduct–Christian or not–not be emphasized in the military.  The US military’s most shameful moments have occurred because of a lack of moral values, not because of the presence of Christian ones.

When necessary and appropriate, a military Christian can and should actively advocate a moral position.  Still, his greatest tool remains his personal moral example.  He should never feel the need to change or deny his beliefs.  On the contrary, a Christian military member can have an immense and positive moral influence on both his unit and, ultimately, the military as a whole.

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